I’m in grade 12 and am confused whether to be a chef or a baker because I’m a vegetarian. What are my options?
Today, with the growing food community embracing vegetarian, vegan and plant-based meals, the scenario has changed with more eateries and groceries offering vegetarian food, which in turn means a huge career opportunity in this space.
But you must first determine that your interest and passion in cooking translates into the required skill set. Reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows, experimenting with recipes, and devising meals for your family and friends are all excellent ways to exercise your culinary skills. Many famous chefs have started their careers this way.
Moving on, you need to determine what your career goals are. Is focussing on preparing and cooking good food, including preparing a menu, all you want to do? Perhaps you don’t want to spend extra time in school in learning things. Or, you are keen to understand the management and business side of running a kitchen and perhaps start a restaurant of your own? The former may only require a diploma, certificate or an associate degree, but the latter will warrant you getting enrolled in a full-fledged culinary degree program, which will teach you amongst other things cost control and hospitality management.
In most restaurants, animal products continue to be a major feature on the menu and a majority of culinary programs will still be inclined towards classical cuisine with animal products. You would need to decide how comfortable you are in an omnivore environment wherein you could translate these techniques to ‘vegetarianism’, or if you would be happier to study in a dedicated plant-based environment. If you decide the latter, it would be prudent to ensure the program includes the techniques used in omnivore cooking so that your culinary repertoire is not limited.
Whilst training don’t forget to create a portfolio of the many vegetarian dishes you have created and the various ‘omnivore’ recipes you converted to become plant-based dishes.
As a vegetarian you would ideally need to work in specialised restaurants that have over the years gathered steam; there are institutes which cater to this segment of students.
The renowned Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York, or the Living Light Culinary Institute California specialise in plant-based cooking. There’s also the Vegetarian Society Cookery School in UK. For further studies you could consider the eCornell Certificate in plant-based nutrition. New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute has a program dedicated to human health and nutrition.
If baking is your passion, your option would be to work as a pastry chef or as a baker in restaurant or bakery. In this industry, the hands-on experience is as important as the formal education.
Sanjeev Verma is an international education counsellor